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Saturday was the third running of the Summerfest "Rock 'n Sole" race in Milwaukee. They had a 5k, the rather unusual distance of a quarter-marathon (10.55km), and a half marathon. I was in the half. The day started with cold rain, which wasn't super encouraging, but by race start at 7 in the morning it had diminished to a sort of cool intermittent drizzle, and the rain pretty much stopped an hour or so into the race. The roads were wet but not to a particularly dangerous or even unpleasant degree. It was surely not such a pleasant morning for the roughly 1023 volunteers (or so it appears, there were many of them and they were awesome!) to stand around in, but it was a good temperature for a long foot race.

In past years I didn't take this event very seriously as a race but mostly wanted to enjoy the very rare chance to see the city from up on the Hoan bridge, part of Interstate 794 where normally enjoyment of the view is prohibited, only driving fast in a car is allowed. This year I wasn't sure if I was really in shape to set a new personal best, but I was taking it seriously enough to not bring a camera along to waste time getting photographs (plus it was raining). I had the virtual pace in my Garmin set to my previous best, last year in Madison. When I first looked at that screen, somewhere between a quarter and a third of the way into the race, I was over a minute ahead of that pace, which seemed quite encouraging. Throughout the race I maintained a pace faster than my PB pace, I felt pretty good, and I seemed to be pretty fast on the downhill segments.

The race was super-organized (totally unlike the fiasco the first year, when a different company was running the event), the vast number of awesome volunteers ran the aid stations smoothly, and in the end I set a new personal best, 1:40:29, 3:37 faster than my previous best last August in Madison. I finished 278th of the 3583 people running the half marathon, 229th of the 1508 men (as usual in running, there were more women than men, 58%. It seems hard to imagine that not that long ago they wouldn't let women even enter races, when now everyone knows women are supposed to be more than half the participants), and 20th of 174 men age 40-44. When you are in around 300th place it doesn't exactly look like you are near the front, but I did notice when we turned around at the south end of the Hoan bridge and headed back that there were kilometers of people trailed out behind us. Keep in mind that before getting anywhere near the turnaround we saw the actual leaders headed past us on the other side, already kilometers ahead of us normal people.

I had another thought at the packet pickup / expo on Friday, which I'll just repost from Facebook:

I did buy a few items at the expo while picking up my race packet for the half marathon tomorrow, and vendors attempted to sell me even more things. As I passed the vendor of aloe vera based creme, a woman working there told me I had to try their product, asked me to hold up my hand, and squirted on a bit of their creme and then held my hand and did a thorough job of rubbing the lotion onto my skin while explaining, at length, the many benefits of their fine product. Speaking as a straight dude, I'll agree that this is a fairly effective way to encourage straight dudes to hang around and listen to your sales pitch. The other thought I immediately had, having some experience with the way many men often behave, is that this woman has got to be on the receiving end of an *immense* quantity of that sort of thing that women get all too often from all too many men. Dudes! She's selling moisturizing lotion! If you were thinking of saying, well, *anything* not directly related to a lotion-purchasing business transaction, just don't. Seriously. Don't.

Gloriously detailed Garmin GPS and heart rate data
beige_alert: (honk)
I ran in the Rock 'n Sole half marathon this year in Milwaukee, and the organizers of that event also do the Madison Mini-Marathon and had a M2 Challenge "Rockin to the Capitol" thing with an extra finisher medal for people who ran both races. It sounded like fun.

I'm not a highly experienced racer, but I can say that these guys can organize the crap out of an event, at least compared to certain other event organizers. These were smoothly functioning events.

This was my first race away from home. Madison is only an hour and a half or so of car driving away, but far enough away for me to spend a night in a hotel, certainly so given that packet pickup was the day before. This was one of the "official" hotels and they were prepared for a bunch of crazy people planning to get up at four in the morning on Saturday.

Madison may be a smallish city but it is also a college town, and obviously it's basically not a place you can drive around and park a car in easily. It's worse because the city center is squeezed between a bunch of lakes and so unlike the usual Midwestern big-flat-region where you can just lay out a grid of streets intersecting at right angles they have a weird square crossed by diagonals, with every street one-way and every intersection a weird mix of mandatory or prohibited turns with some random number of streets intersecting. Really, I'm there to run 21.1km at maximum speed, just parking the damn car a few km away and walking would be perfectly fine, but unlike my own home city I have no idea where to go about doing that or how to get there. (In Milwaukee I pretty much have my own personal downtown parking spot in a location that I think is quite convenient but which for some reason no one else seems to want to park in.) I drove round and round and round again Friday night trying to figure out where I might be able to park a car in the vicinity of the packet pickup location. Race morning was easier since I just stuck the car in the first parking garage I came upon on the way toward the start, which was plenty close enough. Also, these days I have the benefit of the Google navigation app in the phone, which helps tons in a maze of one-way-left-turn-only streets.

Race morning! What can be better that waking up at 04:40 on a weekend? The hotel, being ready for the event, had their breakfast rolls and coffee and whatnot ready at 4:30 but I brought my own breakfast of familiar items. It's best not to try interesting new foods before a 21km run, really. Once you get within a few blocks of the start of an event with five thousand participants, it's pretty easy to tell that you've found the right place. All those hundreds of people with numbers pinned to their shirts is a pretty good clue. They had loudspeakers set up, an announcer announcing, music playing, and I'm sure the people living on each side of the starting line were thrilled about that at six AM. It was a cool morning with clear skies and minimal wind. The start was at 7:00. It's a pretty course, which went past the capitol building, past lakes, and through the arboretum. Every one of the numerous aid stations had rows of tables with mobs of volunteers cheerfully handing out cups of water or Gatorade from their massive supply of ready-to-hand-out pre-filled paper cups. Did I mention this event was organized?

I run with a Garmin GPS (Runners: You will recognize them by their giant GPS-heart-rate-wristwatches. You can see my data from the race on Garmin Connect here), but there were also pace groups running, holding up signs with their target time and wearing even-more-brightly-colored-shirts than most of the rest of us. I caught up with the 1:45 target time group pretty quickly and ran with them for a while, then got ahead of them. I finished in 1:44:06, which is 2:10 faster than my previous best time, set at the indoor half-marathon this January at the Pettit Center. That's just over 12.1 km/hr, just a hair faster than 5 minute kilometers or 8 minute miles.

At the finish they had a highly organized process to hand you water, a washcloth with a sponsor's logo on it, granola bars, cookies, and, of course, the finisher's medal. Then head for the beer table for your free beer. As I always say, normally, if you are drinking beer before 9AM, that might be a warning sign that you have issues, assuming you aren't working some sort of night shift. Here, we'd already been up for four or five hours and had run 21.1km, so, really, good time for a beer.

The timing crew has progressed beyond the old-style eventual taping-up of printouts of times, and now you go to the time tent and they type in your number and print out your time and the intermediate splits (5 miles, 10 miles, and time for the last 5km, in this case) for you. Next to them those of us in the M2 Challenge got checked off the list and given the medal for that. Highly organized.

Overall, it's a fun event and I recommend it, as well as the Milwaukee Rock 'n Sole now that it's organized by this highly organized crew.

Oh, and how do we know that we're in Wisconsin? That finisher's medal also can be used as a bottle opener. Around here, we need to be able to get our beer bottles open. It's actually a pretty good bottle opener: Photo here.
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I ran in the Icebreaker Indoor half marathon yesterday. It's held at the Pettit National Ice Center running track because, as I always say, if you are holding a running race in Milwaukee in January, you probably want to hold it indoors. This is my third year running the half marathon, and I think it's a great event and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys running in circles. I think it's a lot more fun than people think it sounds like. We're all in there as a group, they have music playing and an announcer announcing, you go past the spectators constantly, and you go past the hydration table every 443 meters so you never have to worry about water. Unless you are one of them, you get passed repeatedly by the really fast runners, which is quite impressive to see. It's like they are doing some sort of interval workout, except the interval is 21.1 kilometers. And many of them are coming back the next day for 42.2km. If you aren't among the slowest then you in turn get to lap other runners, which makes it really feel like some sort of race. It takes about two laps for the field to spread out and start to sort out by speed, and after that for the most part it's not much problem to pass and be passed.

My time this year was 1:46:16, 64 seconds faster than my previous best half marathon, which was last year's Icebreaker. Best of all, nothing in particular ever hurt. There are ups and downs, times I felt good, times I felt really tired and just plain beat, but no foot blisters, weird knee pains, muscle cramps, or any other sort of specific injuries or pains.

I started long track speed skating because of the Icebreaker run. I signed up for the half marathon back in the fall of 2010 and did quite a bit of running in the Pettit center in preparation, mostly after work during the time the speed skating sessions are running. I saw the speed skaters and thought I wanted to try that, and now I'm out on the oval regularly. I thought it might be fun to do some speed skating during the running of the marathon today, and it was. I found out that I can match the speed of the marathon winner, but only if I have speed skates on. A few of the runners chatted briefly while I was gliding around the outside of the ice, and the skaters thought it was interesting that I'm also a runner and had run the half the previous day.

After a little more than an hour of mostly easy skating I went to Lapham Peak to ski. It was cloudy and a bit foggy today, but it turned out to be a really beautiful day at the park, with a frost effect coating trees and pine needles in parts of the park with ice crystals. After all the other activity I was going to take it slow, and it really was a pretty day to just ski around (and take some photos) and enjoy the place without athlete-ing around trying to achieve a fast time.

photo )


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January 2015



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